The Importance of Filtering

I’ve been noticing some commonalities lately on the importance of filtering.

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Seth Godin: The more people you reach the more likely it is that you’re reaching the wrong people.

Progressive Disclosure: A strategy for managing information complexity in which only necessary or requested information is displayed at any given time.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio: The ratio of relevant to irrelevant information in a display. The highest possible signal-to-noise ratio is desirable in design.

Steve Jobs: And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of designers don’t talk very much on their sites either…well their business/product sites anyways. I’m assuming it’s because they want to filter what they say so that their work speaks for itself. And in reality isn’t that great design? Stripping everything away so that the design itself speaks directly to your soul or emotions.

Personal Projection Devices

I was chatting with someone the other day about how I believe that in the future, instead of having massive plasma or LCD screens (since their environmentally unfriendly), we’ll instead have small hand sized devices that project an incredible sharp and vivid picture on surfaces around us at any size we desire.

So imagine a futuristic version of an iPod or iPhone with this technology built within it. If I’m meeting a client at a coffee shop, I can place it so the projection is cast across a small portion of the table top, so we can go over a design composite without the entire coffee shop seeing. Or if I’m at a friends place and he hasn’t seen a new movie release that I’ve already seen, I can place it so it projects it upon a large portion of the wall in his living room, thus creating a theatre-like performance (with the audio being transmitted to his stereo wirelessly).

Of course the next step is the ability for the device to not only project images like a computer or TV screen but also receive input via precise recognition of your hand movement. Initially it might be pretty basic but over time it could theoretically detect movement so precise that you could type on a projected keyboard with it. I mean imagine having your iTunes music library cast up on a wall in cover flow mode and being able to flow through your albums with your hands, almost like flicking through a virtual library of vinyl record albums.

Again this really isn’t that far fetched. For example, take a look at this video of a Hitachi device just recently shown at the CES. With another five to tens years of miniaturization, who knows what we’ll have. Oh and add in vocal and facial recognition and you’ve got something pretty cool.

The Design Principle of Small Pieces Loosely Joined

View on Amazon.comI haven’t talked about David Weinberger’s book Small Pieces Loosely Joined for some time now but I was reminded of it the other day when I was thinking about relationships. I can’t remember what I was watching or reading but it related to the fact that relationships that are somewhat flexible are usually stronger because of it. I mean I’ve always said personally that there needs to be some give and take in a relationship for it to be sustainable. If one side is doing all of the giving and the other is doing all the taking, then that relationship isn’t going to last very long. Now I realize why. Because it’s a very fixed and rigid relationship.

View on Amazon.comThat’s why I immediately thought about the two words “loosely joined” when I was absorbing this knowledge. Upon thinking of those two words though, other examples came to mind as well. For example, if you look at research into making buildings earthquake proof, a lot of it relates to small pieces loosely joined as well. The flexibility of the structure allows it to withstand the enormous shock waves that strike it. And in thinking about that, my thoughts immediately jumped to my latest post about the new design book I recently acquired entitled Universal Principals of Design.

View on Amazon.comOf course at that moment, I realized why I was thinking about the design book. Small pieces loosely joined is a design principle in itself and an excellent one at that. It embodies so many things. I mean if you read Getting Real by 37 Signals you’ll see this principle mirrored throughout it. Start small, simple, and loosely build in small stages. If you read any book on building community, such as Community Building on the Web by Amy Jo Kim, you’ll see it there as well. Start small, keep things loose so you can feel out your community, and let it grow slowly over time.

View on Amazon.comAnd even just today, I encountered another upcoming book that mirrors this principle one again called Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It by Cali and Jody. It relates to how typical work environments are basically killing us because of their rigidity. Cali and Jody have instead come up with an approach called ROWE (Results-Only Work Environments), whereby people in the company are given the freedom to do whatever they want as long as they achieve the results required of them. Again we’re talking about creating relationships that are “loosely joined” which in turn makes them stronger (i.e. a massive increase in worker productivity because of it).

I mean even if you look at articles relating to open source you’ll see these thoughts of creating loose environments mirrored as well. Take a look at these two quotes below from Paul Graham’s article on What Business Can Learn From Open Source and you’ll notice that they pretty much mirror Cali and Jody’s thoughts on what a flexible work environment should be.

Things are different in a startup. Often as not a startup begins in an apartment. Instead of matching beige cubicles they have an assortment of furniture they bought used. They work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it’s “work safe.” The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it’s ever going to be.

The other problem with pretend work is that it often looks better than real work. When I’m writing or hacking I spend as much time just thinking as I do actually typing. Half the time I’m sitting drinking a cup of tea, or walking around the neighborhood. This is a critical phase– this is where ideas come from– and yet I’d feel guilty doing this in most offices, with everyone else looking busy.

I know most people who do a lot of intensive problem solving know this as well. More often than not, those critical ideas that you come up with aren’t thought of in the boardroom or office but away from it when you’re doing something simple or mundane like taking a shower, walking the dog, or whatever. It’s one reason why a lot of creative companies often take their creative thinking outside of the office (i.e. local coffee shop, etc).

Anyways in closing up this post, I’d just like to thank David Weinberger for coming up with such a wonderful title for his book. It’s a design principle that I will refer to much more frequently now that I’m much more aware of it. Thanks David!